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169-year-old Steinway & Sons piano maker tunes up for an IPO

The storied brand, which will list shares on the New York Stock Exchange, is betting on a future powered by high-tech pianos and a growing market in China.

169-year-old Steinway & Sons piano maker tunes up for an IPO
[Source Images: Getty]

Steinway & Sons, the venerable piano maker founded in 1853, will make its public debut on the world’s biggest stock market stage, according to a Thursday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

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According to the IPO prospectus, it intends to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker STWY, although it did not give an expected share price.

The pianos were first born in Manhattan from German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg, and in the 169 years since, the brand has crafted a legacy as the premier instrument for concert pianists performing in the world’s most celebrated theaters, from the Royal Albert Hall in London to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. (Famous Steinway players include Lang Lang, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Irving Berlin, and Billy Joel.)

For many, the name connotes culture and prestige—a reputation strengthened by the occasional artistic masterpieces unveiled by the company. In 1938, it gifted its 300,000th piano to the White House, with gold-leaf decals illustrating the music of indigenous America and three carved bald eagles as its legs. In 2010, the Shanghai World Fair showcased another creation, with ornate wooden peacocks and replicas of Chinese paintings, which is today the world’s most expensive piano, costing close to $2 million. A few years later, for its 600,000th piece, it produced a Fibonacci-inspired design, with the mathematical pattern’s iconic spiral set into the grand piano’s lid.

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But Steinway has been known more recently for technological innovation. Several years ago, it developed a self-playing piano called the Spirio, which by all means appears like a regular piano except that it connects to a digital tablet that cues a library of songs. Those pianos represented nearly a third of Steinway’s sales in 2021, the company said in its prospectus. In October, it revealed a new feature that lets the self-playing pianos emulate real-time, live-streamed performances from other Spirios anywhere on Earth—meaning a concert happening across the globe translates to music flowing from the grand piano in your living room.

According to the company, “The Steinway piano was the instrument of choice for approximately 97% of concert pianists when performing with orchestras across the globe during the 2018–2019 concert season,” which was the last full season before the pandemic. All of those musicians, it said, independently owned Steinways. It made $538 million in sales last year, with $59 million in profit, up 13% from the prior year. In coming years, it anticipates significant growth in China, which is the world’s largest piano market.

Steinway is currently owned by billionaire John Paulson. In 2018, the Chinese state-owned China Poly Group made a $1 billion bid to buy the piano maker but was turned down, according to Bloomberg.

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